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Kengo: Legend of the 9

Platform(s): Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Publisher: Genki / Majesco
Developer: Genki


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Xbox 360 Review - 'Kengo: Legend of the 9'

by Chris Lawton on Oct. 23, 2007 @ 1:23 a.m. PDT

Kengo lets you play as a medieval samurai. Your objective in the game is to travel around Japan to fight against other samurai to become the strongest warrior in the country. More than 30 historical warriors will be in the game, such as the legendary swordsman Miyamoto Musashi, his rival Sasaki Kojirou, and some lesser-known fighters, such as Shishido Baiken, legendary master of the chain and sickle.

Genre: Fighting
Publisher: Majesco
Developer: Genki
Release Date: September 11, 2007

Imagine, if you will, going to an amusement park with a group of friends. Sounds like fun, right? Okay, now imagine that one of your friends really likes the Tilt-a-Whirl and forces you to ride it over and over and over again. Every once in a while, you get away and ride the Ferris wheel, but after that, your friend pulls you back to ride the Tilt-a-Whirl again. Does it still sound fun? Probably not. Kengo: Legend of the 9 is kind of like that. It's an interesting formula that is fun for the first few rides but eventually settles into unstoppable monotony and repetition.

Kengo: Legend of the 9 puts you into the shoes of nine famous samurai from feudal Japan. You follow each Samurai's path as he or she travels around the country meeting up with the other eight and dueling to the death. Along the way, the game tells the tale of a changing Japan, as political climates shift.

The storyline is one of the few elements that Legend of the 9 does really well. Each character's story is unique and interesting, and while the political overtones aren't too strong, they provide enough context so that the rest of the story makes sense. Rather than dwell on the historical, Legend of the 9 takes a more romantic approach, pitting many Samurai against others from a different century for the sake of the story. It's an excellent method that feels like you're playing a storybook, as opposed to a history textbook. Most of the duels never really happened, but that doesn't make it any less exciting.

Another area where Legend of the 9 achieves some level of fun is in the grappling system. You might have seen this in a samurai movie: Two swordsmen, with their swords locked together, attempt to throw each other to the side, allowing for that moment of vulnerability needed to cut down the adversary. The game faithfully recreates this but takes it a step further by allowing you to use the surrounding environment to aid in the swordplay. While locked, push your opponent toward a cliff, and he starts to teeter, giving you just enough time to kick him off. While it's certainly not perfect — sometimes the grapple button isn't quite as responsive as you'd like it to be — it looks great when it does happen.

Another cool aspect of the gameplay is the stamina bar. As you block attacks and strike enemies who are blocking, the stamina bar decreases. The bar also drops when you grapple with your opponent and run him around the room. If your stamina bar is empty, you become vulnerable to a one-hit kill. Fortunately, the system works in your favor more often than not, allowing you to end your opponent quickly and cleanly.

Legend of the 9 also looks and sounds phenomenal. All of the graphics are crisp and clean, and the environments are varied and beautiful. The character models are strikingly human-like, and their animations flow naturally. The sound effects aren't much more than the typical grunts and sword-slashing noises, but the voice acting is solid. All of the voices are in Japanese; the dialogue is pulled right out of an old samurai movie and is so over the top that I doubt it would sound nearly as realistic in English.

Unfortunately, that's pretty much where the shining points of Legend of the 9 end. From the outset, the game quickly degenerates into an incredibly monotonous button-masher that will bore most gamers before they're even close to completing it.

As explained before, Kengo: Legend of the 9 tells the stories of nine different samurai as they travel around Japan looking for new opponents to test their skill. Legend of the 9 differs from other fighting games by trying to introduce brief interludes of adventure. Essentially, your character walks into an area and is confronted by a group of brigands, ninja or something else out of a kung-fu movie. Your character has to fight through 30 to 40 minor guys before the boss makes his or her appearance. After defeating the boss, you move onto the next level and do the same thing: fight 30 to 40 minor guys, meet the boss and beat the boss.

Every once in a while, the game will shake things up by throwing two bosses into a level or introducing the boss before the minor guys, but 99 percent of the time, the levels will fall into the expected formula, and you will get sick of it very, very quickly.

It might be a little better if there were some variety to the combat. You have two types of attacks: vertical and horizontal. Basically, you string together combos of two to four attacks to wipe through any of the minor enemies the game throws at you. The problem is that all of the minor enemies can be destroyed with the same combo. You could vary your attacks a bit, but it's really not necessary. You can just hit the same button over and over, and you'll do just fine. The enemies don't help with that, either; oftentimes, they will actually run toward you and stop at sword's length, waiting for you to make a move. It gives you plenty of time to charge your stamina before continuing your reign of one-combo destruction. The bosses tend to block a bit more, which requires you to use the previously mentioned grappling kills.

At the end of each level, you're given experience points for the number of enemies you killed, as well as bonuses for using things like your environment kills or slashing enemies in the back. You use the experience points to buy new attacks and complete your combos. At first, this RPG-esque leveling system may seem fun, but you eventually realize that it doesn't really matter. While the new attacks may look cool, there's really no variety in terms of damage. You'll just select the button combo that's easiest to mash out and keep repeating it throughout the game. You'll also get spirit orbs at the end of each level, which you can "spend" to increase your attack, defense, health and stamina. These stat boosts affect gameplay a little, but it's difficult to notice because you usually sink your orbs into health and stamina first, since they seem to be the most important attributes.

Legend of the 9 provides multiple game modes, which extend the life of the game a bit. You have your Main Mode, which plays through each character's story in about an hour, and Mission Mode, which gives you an objective and a completion time. Last, but not least, you have Battle Mode, which pits one fighter against another in a bout where the victor has to win two out of three battles. In both the Mission and Battle modes, you can choose either a fighter with preset stats or your own fighter from the Main Mode. This can actually be a lot of fun, as you see how well your fighter stands up to the other ones you've created.

There is Xbox Live support, but in an odd move, Kengo: Legend of the 9 doesn't allow you to actually fight against other people. Rather, the game allows you to pit your fighter against other fighters from around the world in AI-controlled battles. This means that if you want to actually test your fighter against others, you're reduced to the role of a spectator as you watch the computer fight for you.

In the system's defense, it does record your fighting style from the Main Mode, and the AI-controlled fighter does indeed reflect this selection. It just gets kind of boring watching the fights instead of participating in them.

Overall, Kengo: Legend of the 9 does very little to keep a gamer's interest past the first couple of hours. While it does have some beautiful environments and interesting gameplay elements, most people won't be able to make it past the severely boring and repetitive segments. For $40, though, fans of samurai fiction might get enough of a kick out of each character's story to make Legend of the 9 a worthwhile selection.

Score: 6.0/10

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